Friday 1 June 2018

Guest Review: Supertramp 'Some Things Never Change' (1997) by Kenny Brown

Dear readers, I am always eager to have guest posts from any of you with a favourite (or even a least favourite) record that isn’t covered by our site. Kenny Brown has already written one excellent review for The Skids album ‘Joy’ (available to read at ) and has kindly followed it up with another good one for this under-rated album from 1997

Track listing: It’s A Hard World/You Win I Lose/Get Your Act Together/Live To Love You/Some Things Never Change/Listen To Me Please/Sooner Or Later/Help Me Down That Road/And The Light/Give Me A Change/C’est What?/Where There’s A Will

Supertramp - Some Things Never Change

(Guest Review by Kenny Brown)

With a recorded history of over eleven studio albums, Supertramp produced a varied output of melodic inventive rock. They were best remembered for the breakthrough album ‘Crime of the Century’ and finally hit the big time with ‘Breakfast in America’. Their template was the two differing writing styles of Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies, which somehow fused together to make coherent albums, aided by superb musicianship and fine production. It was a winning combination that lasted until Hodgson left the band in 1983.

The politics of Hodgson’s leaving are for another time, but without him and his melodic gift the next four Supertramp albums failed to match the sales of earlier years. It’s a shame that these albums have been largely disregarded, as each had their moments and with ‘Some Things Never Change’ released in 1997, they made an album that is comparable to anything the band made previously with Hodgson.

Following 1987’s ‘Free As A Bird’, the band had been on hiatus for nine years and Davies had considered making a solo album, but having conscripted fellow ‘Tramps John Halliwell and Bob Siebenburg to help, a reunion was more realistic to the record company. It also coincided with former Supertramp touring musician Mark Hart having spare time due to Crowded House splitting up and he willingly joined in the sessions. ‘Some Things Never Change’ was recorded between 1996/97 with the group largely together in the studio at the same time. Production was shared between Jack Douglas and Fred Mandel, who had previously helped the band during the Famous Last Words sessions in 1982.

Like many albums of the day Some Things Never Change was released on CD with a substantial running length of over 65 minutes, but it manages to keep a coherence enough to allow for an uninterrupted listen.

Across the 12 tracks the songs fall into two categories. The shorter songs from the album seem to have been pre-written and would have fitted well into Davies’s solo album if it had gotten off the ground. The second category are songs that are longer in length, more free in structure and could be interpreted as having been formed from studio jams that allow the instrumentalists a showcase.

The album starts with ‘It’s a Hard World’, a dark brooding piece that over its nearly 10 minutes length captures some of the prog rock spirit of earlier albums. It is a bit of a sonic tour de force with each instrument clearly defined. Davies’ almost spoken intro is stunning and the interplay with the other vocalists adds to the tone. Spanish guitar and brass help propel the song along and it builds to a climax with added layers of instrumentation.

The obvious single from the album was ‘You Win I Lose’ and it had some good sales but in limited markets. A video was made with US model Anna Nicolle Smith for TV promotion, but no band members were in it. It’s a slight throwaway kind of song which doesn’t overstay its welcome.

‘Live to Love You’ is a song for Davies’s wife and a response to critics. It has a doo-wop vibe and is the most straightforward song on the album. The organ of Mark Hart is reminiscent of his Crowded House work and a lovely John Helliwell clarinet solo lifts it to another level.

The title track takes us back to the opening song, with its emphasis on atmosphere more than song structure. It has funky rock solid drumming with some wonderful bass guitar underpinning the whole song. The instruments are never overplayed and it would’ve been a great number to play live. Davies seems to let rip at the end with honky tonk piano as the song plays out.

When Mark Hart initially joined Supertramp it was as a multi instrumentalist to help with the live showsand to provide lead vocals on the Roger Hodgson songs. On this album he helpfully provides a counter balance to Davies with two vocal performances of songs that he co-wrote with him.

‘Sooner or Later’ has a steady rhythm and like the other songs on the album allows a degree of jamming from the band across its six-minute length. Hart’s  other song is ‘Give Me A Chance’, which could’ve been a song from Crowded House. It has a traditional song structure and in the context of the album helps with some contrast both vocally and melodically.

‘And The Light’ is a slow ballad showcasing Davies’s ability to craft a song around a lyric on the theme of friendship. John Helliwell brings a tender saxophone solo to the song and its one of the finer songs on the album. If it had ended there is would have been perfect but the album closed off by ‘C’est What’ and ‘Where There’s a Will’, which are decent songs but are more like filler than thriller.

Supertramp have been highly regarded in audiophile circles for their album productions, particularly on ‘Crime of the Century’ and the ‘Live in Paris’ double album. I would suggest that this is not only a sonic equal of those albums, but musically too.

Many won’t listen to Supertramp albums without Hodgson but they are missing out and on this album the Rick Davies-led band really matched much of the earlier band’s output and it comes highly recommended.

Kenny Brown


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